and political figure as well as a poet, he was one of the primary lieutenants of Octavian, the man who was to become Augustus, heir of Julius Caesar and the first Roman emperor. After Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra and captured Egypt, he left Gallus in charge of the country, an enormously powerful and sensitive position. Before long, Gallus was accused of disloyalty and was compelled to commit suicide.
After the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian returned to Rome and set about a programme of national renewal to celebrate and consolidate the ensuing period of peace (and absolute hegemony). As part of that programme, the regime actively solicited a new kind of verse. Augustus did not want love poetry celebrating powerful women (like Cleopatra) and the men bewitched by them (like Antony, according to the history that was written by the winners); he wanted an epic celebrating the national destiny. Before long, the regime was actively encouraging Romans to return to traditional family values and later resorted to legislation to support that aim. In this atmosphere, Latin love elegy came to stand in contrast to patriotic epic; to traditional Roman values of family, nation and masculinity; and to several of the particular obsessions of the new regime of Augustus. ‘Why should I bear sons for my country’s triumphs? No child of mine shall be a soldier.’ When Propertius addresses these words to his mistress, swearing that he will never marry, he is pointedly rejecting the values of the new regime. This opposition between elegy and the emperor came to a head many decades later, when Ovid was exiled from Rome by Augustus; his outrageously cynical poetry about love and sex was an important factor in that punishment. Propertius himself, in his fourth and final book, moves away from an exclusive focus on love to write about Roman themes, but, given Propertius’ penchant for dry humour, the extent to which this should be interpreted as marking a sea-change is disputed. The themes of Latin love elegy can be easily enumerated, but what is more difficult is to give a sense of the qualities